The Orwell Memorial Lectures

The Orwell Memorial Lecture has been given annually since 1989. The lecture has attracted notable speakers including Dr Rowan Williams, Dame Hilary Mantel, Robin Cook, Kamila Shamsie and Ian Hislop.

Originally held at Birkbeck, University of London and the University of Sheffield, the Orwell Lecture is now held each year at University College London.

This page features a comprehensive list of lectures, with links to recordings of the lectures on The Orwell Foundation YouTube account, and/or published transcripts where available. On our YouTube channel you will also find highlights from other Orwell Foundation events, including The Orwell Festival, which launched in 2022.

The Orwell Memorial Lecture is generously sponsored by George Orwell’s son, Richard Blair.

The Orwell Lecture 2022: Lisa Nandy MP

Wigan, the World and Everywhere In Between: How We Build a Country That Works

The Orwell Foundation and co-hosts UCL Policy Lab were delighted to welcome Lisa Nandy MP to deliver the annual Orwell Lecture at University College London on Tuesday 6th December 2022. In her lecture, Lisa drew on George Orwell’s own journey to Wigan to reflect on the lessons she has learnt from over a decade as the town’s MP.

The Orwell Lecture 2021: Ian McEwan

Politics and the Imagination: Reflection's on Orwell's Inside the Whale

Ian McEwan’s works have earned him worldwide critical acclaim, and we were delighted that he could give the Orwell Memorial Lecture on 26 November 2021 live from Conway Hall on the topic ‘Politics and the Imagination: Reflections on Orwell’s Inside the Whale’.

The Orwell Lecture 2020: Dr Tristram Hunt

Decolonising the Wonder House: Orwell, Empire and the Museum

Dr Tristram Hunt is the Director of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London – the world’s leading museum of art, design and performance. Prior to joining the V&A, Tristram was MP for Stoke‐on‐Trent Central and Shadow Secretary of State for Education. He has a PhD from the University of Cambridge and is the author of several books.

The Orwell Lecture 2019: Daniel Finkelstein

How To Predict An Election

Daniel Finkelstein, OBE, is the Associate Editor, a Columnist and Leader Writer for The Times. He also sits in the House of Lords as Lord Finkelstein. As well as his weekly political column in the comment section and his Saturday Notebook, he writes the “Fink Tank” for the Saturday paper, a statistical column on football.

The Orwell Lecture 2018: Kamila Shamsie

Unbecoming British: Citizenship, Migration and the Transformation of Rights into Privileges

Kamila Shamsie is the author of seven novels, including Burnt Shadows and A God in Every Stone. Home Fire won the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2018.

The Orwell Lecture 2017: A. L. Kennedy

Orwell with women

Alison (A L) Kennedy is an award-winning author, stand-up comedian, journalist and Associate Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Warwick. Her fiction includes Day (winner of the Costa Book of the Year Award 2007), The Blue Book and Serious Sweet

A. L. Kennedy said: “Deeply associated with political thinking – and our increasingly rapid descent into newspeak and unhistory – Orwell was also a meticulously close observer of women and placed them at the centre of his imaginative life. A famously self-contained man, often part of all-male groups, Orwell nevertheless had an enduring and vital relationship with the female. The talk will look at the different threads of this relationship.”

The Orwell Lecture in the North 2017: Grayson Perry

'I've read all the academic texts on empathy'

The inaugural Orwell Lecture in the North was delivered by Turner Prize-winning artist Grayson Perry. The lecture, which was covered in The Observer, was delivered to a capacity audience at the Octagon Centre, Sheffield, was not recorded and there is no transcript available.

Perry said: “I am an artist and I am a great believer in the power of culture to communicate in ways that are particular to the arts, a more holistic style of relaying information that talks not only to the intellect but the heart, body and soul as well. We need to harness and grow this power as a force for good, a force that can bind us in deep and lovely ways we did not even know were happening.”

The Orwell Lecture in the North is a collaborative venture between The Orwell Foundation and The Bernard Crick Centre at the University of Sheffield.

The Orwell Prize Shortlist Lecture 2017: Ruth Davidson

'Nationalism should not be confused with patriotism' - Our Divided Politics

Ruth Davidson is the leader of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party and the Member of the Scottish Parliament for Edinburgh Central. After graduating from Edinburgh University, Davidson worked as a BBC journalist and signaller in the Territorial Army. She joined the Conservative Party in 2009 and was elected leader in 2011. The Orwell Prize Shortlist Lecture 2017 was produced in partnership with UCL’s Constitution Unit.

The Orwell Lecture 2016: Ian Hislop

The Right to Dissent (and the Left too)

The Orwell Memorial Lecture 2016 was given by editor of Private Eye, Ian Hislop at University College London. Ian Hislop is a writer, editor and broadcaster. He was educated at Ardingly College and Magdalen College, Oxford. He has been editor of Private Eye since 1986 and is probably best known for his role as a regular team captain on the BBC show Have I Got News for You.

The Orwell Lecture 2015: Dr Rowan Williams

War, Words and Reason: Orwell and Thomas Merton on the Crises of Language 

Dr Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, gave the 2015 Orwell Lecture on 17th November 2015, at University College London. A full transcript of Dr Williams’ lecture is available on The Orwell Foundation website.

The Orwell Lecture 2014: David Kynaston

‘Whatever Happened to Social Mobility’

David Kynaston is a historian and author of City of London: The History and Austerity Britain, 1945–1951. An adapted version of the lecture is available courtesy of The Guardian.

The Orwell Prize Lecture in Myanmar: Timothy Garton Ash

British historian, author and commentator, and Orwell Fellow Timothy Garton Ash gave an Orwell Lecture at the inaugural Irrawaddy Literary Festival in Myanmar in 2013.

The Orwell Lecture 2013: Tariq Ramadan

Democratising the Middle East: A New Role for the West

The Orwell Lecture 2012: Professor Christopher Andrew

Secrets of the Cuban Missile Crisis 

Professor Christopher Andrew is a historian of modern and contemporary history at the University of Cambridge and author of Secret Service: The Making of the British Intelligence Community (1985).

The Orwell Lecture 2011: Alan Rusbridger

Hacking away at the truth: an investigation and its consequences

Alan Rusbridger was the editor-in-chief of The Guardian newspaper for twenty years (1995 – 2015). He is now the Chair of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism.

The Orwell Lecture 2010: Ferdinand Mount

Orwell and the Oligarchs

Sir William Robert Ferdinand Mount, 3rd Baronet, FRSL, is a British writer, novelist and columnist for The Sunday Times as well as a political commentator.

The Orwell Lecture 2009: Hilary Mantel

'More like a castle than a realm': Thomas Cromwell's Radical England 

Dame Hilary Mary Mantel, DBE, FRSL is an English writer whose work includes personal memoirs, short stories, and historical fiction. She is a twice winner of the Man Booker Prize.

The Orwell Lecture 2008: Andrew O'Hagan

The English

Andrew O’Hagan, FRSL is a Scottish novelist and non-fiction author.

The Orwell Lecture 2007: Michael Rosen

The Politics of Response

Michael Rosen is an English author, novelist and poet best known for his work for children. A transcript of Rosen’s lecture is available courtesy of his website.

The Orwell Lecture 2006: Neal Ascherson

Homo Brittanicus, Soctophobia and All That

Neal Ascherson is a Scottish journalist and writer. He won The Orwell Prize for Journalism in 2004.

The Orwell Lecture 2005: D. J. Taylor

Projections of the inner 'I': George Orwell's Fiction

David John Taylor is a British critic, novelist and biographer. After attending school in Norwich, he read Modern History at St John’s College, Oxford, and has received the 2003 Whitbread Biography Award for his biography of George Orwell. His novel Derby Day was longlisted for the 2011 Man Booker Prize. He is a trustee of The Orwell Foundation.

The Orwell Lecture 2004: Baroness Helena Kennedy QC

Just Law: The changing fact of justice and why it matters

Helena Ann Kennedy, Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws, QC, FRSA, HonFRSE is a British barrister, broadcaster, and Labour member of the House of Lords. Baroness Kennedy is a current patron of The Orwell Youth Prize.

The Orwell Lecture 2003: Professor Stefan Collini

From Authority to Celebrity - Intellectuals in Modern Britain

Stefan Collini is an English literary critic and academic who is Professor of English Literature and Intellectual History at the University of Cambridge and an Emeritus Fellow of Clare Hall. An excerpt of the lecture is available courtesy of The Independent.

The Orwell Memorial Lecture 2002

Professor Patrick Wright

Patrick Wright is a British writer, broadcaster and academic in the fields of cultural studies and cultural history.

The Orwell Memorial Lecture 2001

House of Memory and London's Orbital Motorway – Iain Sinclair

Iain Sinclair FRSL is a Welsh writer and filmmaker. Much of his work is rooted in London, most recently within the influences of psychogeography.

The Orwell Memorial Lecture 2000

Nation, State and Globalisation – Martin Wolf

Martin Harry Wolf, CBE is a British journalist who focuses on economics. A version of the 2000 lecture is available courtesy of the European Business Review.

The Orwell Memorial Lecture 1999

The English Problem: National Identity and Citizenship – Professor Sir Bernard Crick

Sir Bernard Crick was a British political theorist and democratic socialist whose views can be summarised as “politics is ethics done in public”. He was the founder of the original Orwell Prize and author of George Orwell: A Life.

The Orwell Memorial Lecture 1998

Orwell's 'little list' – Professor Peter Davison

Peter Hobley Davison, OBE, Ph.D., D.Litt., Hon. D. Arts, is emeritus professor of English at Glyndŵr University. Davison is a leading authority on the life and works of George Orwell and is editor of The Complete Works of George Orwell (1998).

The Orwell Memorial Lecture 1997

Inside the Whale: the Relationship between the State and the Individual – Frank Field MP

Frank Ernest Field DL is a British independent politician who has been the Member of Parliament for Birkenhead since 1979. From 1997 to 1998, he served as the Minister of Welfare Reform in Tony Blair’s government.

The Orwell Memorial Lecture 1996

The Ministry of Agriculture: The Ministry of Truth – Professor Richard Lacey

Richard Lacey is Professor of Clinical Microbiology at Leeds University. Lacey became a household name when he warned the world against BSE and variant CJD (‘Mad Cow Disease’).

The Orwell Memorial Lecture 1995

Risk – Professor Anthony Giddens

Anthony Giddens, Baron Giddens is a British sociologist who is known for his theory of structuration and his holistic view of modern societies. He is the author of Beyond Left and Right (1994) and The Third Way: The Renewal of Social Democracy (1998).

The Orwell Memorial Lecture 1994

But is it Socialism? – Rt. Hon. Roy Hattersley MP

Roy Sydney George Hattersley, Baron Hattersley, PC, FRSL is a British Labour politician, author and journalist from Sheffield. He was MP for Birmingham Sparkbrook for 33 years from 1964 to 1997. He served as Deputy Leader of the Labour Party from 1983 to 1992.

The Orwell Memorial Lecture 1993

Changing the Legal Culture – Helena Kennedy QC

Helena Ann Kennedy, Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws, QC, FRSA, HonFRSE is a British barrister, broadcaster, and Labour member of the House of Lords. Baroness Kennedy is a current patron of The Orwell Youth Prize.

The Orwell Memorial Lecture 1992

Socialist Values – Robin Cook MP

The late Robert Finlayson Cook was a British Labour Party politician, who served as the Member of Parliament for Livingston from 1983 until his death in 2005, and served in the Cabinet as Foreign Secretary from 1997 until 2001. He resigned from his positions as Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons on 17 March 2003 in protest against the invasion of Iraq.

The Orwell Memorial Lecture 1991

Fiction and Agnosticism – Penelope Lively

Dame Penelope Margaret Lively is a British writer of fiction for both children and adults. Lively has won both the Booker Prize and the Carnegie Medal for British children’s books.

The Orwell Memorial Lecture 1990

Must Revolutions Fail? – Sir Ralf Dahrendorf

Ralf Gustav Dahrendorf, Baron Dahrendorf, KBE, FBA (1929-2009) was a German-British sociologist, philosopher, political scientist and liberal politician.

The Orwell Memorial Lecture 1989

Big Brother, Big Sister and Today's Media – Bruce Kent

Bruce Kent is a British political activist and a former Roman Catholic priest. Active in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, he was the organisation’s general secretary from 1980 to 1985 and its chair from 1987 to 1990.